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November 29, 2015

After seeing a glimpse of Japan's past through Kyoto, it was time to visit the contemporary. Nothing screams contemporary than pop culture movies. Yes, Universal Studios Japan! I've been to Universal Studios in Los Angeles and in Singapore and there are rides that I still remember vividly that are present in all three locations. I will be focusing on the rides I never experienced in Los Angeles and in Singapore. An example would be the Harry Potter themed rides. So let's get going!

Please don't forget that in our Day One and Day Two articles, we explain that our conversion rate is JPY 1.00 is equal to PHP 0.40.

Apartment to Universal Studios Japan

Universal Studios Japan operating hours vary per day. We went on a Thursday where it opens at 9.30 AM and closes at 8PM. So we pulled out the bagels with cream cheese and a jar Jam that we bought at Umeda station last night and heated the bagels up in the oven provided by our host. We bought five bagels for JPY 120.00 each. The cream cheese cost us JPY 400.00 while the Jam cost us JPY 300.00.
So (JPY 600 + JPY 400 + JPY 300)/5 people which amounts to JPY 260.00 per person or Php 104.00 per person for a good breakfast.

Warm firm outer layer with fine compact inner layer, this bagel is worth the JPY 120.00 price tag.

After our daily morning routine we left the house at 8AM and arrived at the station five minutes after. We are taking the Kintetsu line to Nishi-Kujo station then transfer to the JR line that gets us to Universal city station. From there, the entrance to the Universal Studios is just five minutes of walking.

JPY 6600 per ticket!

When we got there at 8.45 AM, the lines for the tickets aren't that bad. We were lucky because after ten minutes the lines just expanded exponentially. Phew! By that time we were already queueing for the entrance turnstiles. As tourists, you only need to pay tax free of JPY 6600 per ticket. All you have to do is present your passports.

The park entrance can get crowded if you aren't early!
We stood there excited to see how this place is different from our venture to the other Universal Studios. When the clock struck 9.30, the lines started moving and we got in ten minutes after! We then rushed to the far right of the park to get to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter!

Giant Stone Sundials at the entrance!

If nothing else, trying to get as quick as we could to the HP land was a good way to get some exercise in the morning.

Weasley's crashed car!
We passed by those giant stone sun dial that marks the entrance to the HP park. Surrounding the stone monument were pine trees reminiscing the forest surrounding Hogwarts. As we continued through the trail we saw the flying car Ron crashed getting into Hogwarts when they missed the train that one year. There is a queuing entrance near it for having your photos taken with the said car.

Hogwarts Express Photo Ops are a thing!
A little bit later we saw the giant arch that had a sign which to me was gibberish but I think would make a lot of sense to Potterheads. On the right side of the other end of the arch is the Hogwarts express. A lot of people are flocking here to have their photos taken. There is also a kind man in a conductor's costume to help increase the immersion that you are in Hogwarts!

Yeah, I saw a lot of Potter-heads geeking out.
We then had to pass through the town before we could get to the castle itself. It was interesting because it did feel like the ones I saw in the movies. You could also see fans buy the school robes and their chosen house scarves. (I personally would have been Slytherin.)

They are watching you.
Eventually we got to the entrance of the castle where the main attraction is. The whole queue takes you through the following: entrance, pine tree forest, greenhouse, secret entrance, locker room, stairs with moving paintings, main dining hall, headmaster's office, house dorms and then eventually to the ride itself where you sit beside three other people and are given 3D glasses. The rest is best experienced for yourself.

This is the inside of the secret entrance!
Before you can get to the staircase with moving paintings, you are advised to keep your things in the locker because they may fall off and get lost while the ride is on-going. The leaflet on the picture above this paragraph are the instructions on how to use the lockers where I left my camera so I wasn't able to take a lot of the pictures along the queue, but I guarantee that any fan of the books or the movies will squeal in total glee as they are immersed in it.

The 4D ride was amazing! It has a mix of CGI and animatorinics which is a lethal combination in films like Jurassic park! If you've riden the Transformers ride at Universal Studios Singapore, this one is a way beyond it.

We then decided to have a meal since it was a little before 12 noon. We went to the three broomsticks restaurant where we got the great feast for four people sharing with two standard butterbeers and two frozen butterbeers.

The Great Feast! Ribs, Corn, Chicken Vegetables, Potato Chips, and Salad
The great feast has four bowls of salad, of grilled corn, of grilled chicken, of grilled ribs and has a generous serving of potato chips and of vegetables. It was able to feed all five of us to the brim. The great feast on its own cost JPY 7600.00 while the standard butterbeer costs JPY 700.00. If you buy the commemorative mugs with the butterbeer it jumps to JPY 1200.00 The total cost for our lunch got to JPY 11,400 on the meal alone. That was the priciest meal for the whole trip. It comes to a whopping JPY 2280.00 per person.

Pick your poison: Standard or Frozen?

The food itself was good but not spectacular. The butterbeer on the other hand is basically melted butterballs with the consistency of rootbeer float. It's nice to try but not something I would have again. We tried a lot of rides after like Spider-man the ride, Jurassic Park the ride, Back to the Future the Ride, Jaws the ride, Waterworld, Terminator the ride and the constant thing is the thirty minute to an hour of waiting in line to ride a ten to fifteen minute ride. Most rides were well done where practical and computer generated effects were used in conjunction but some of the rides are showing their age. It was amazing though. Movies under the universal branding shine the most especially if you are a fan of the intellectual property.

Peter Parker's Workspace at the Daily Bugle!
I decided to drop my stuff at a locker because of all the waiting and walking even I had to give up carrying my bag and my camera so I could enjoy and experience the whole park without the pressure of taking pictures each time. If you've never been to a Universal Studios Theme park, US Japan and US Los Angeles' are good places to start because they are bigger and have a lot of variety compared to the smaller parks like the ones in Singapore.

Most of the local tourists are going home at 4PM
After all those rides we decided to go home at 4PM. Most of the locales did the same so I would advice riding as much ride as you can after most of the local tourists have left. The hot rides aren't as bad as the peak hours. My favourites are still the Harry Potter themed rides because they never felt dated.

Homemade Okonomiyaki!
We rode the same train to get back home and spent the same amount of JPY 510.00 per person for the train ride. We decided to have some street food from the market. We got some Okonomiyaki and Yakisoba which normally cost JPY 650.00 each but since we were taking it home we got each for JPY 500.00. We then found a sushi stall that sells a packed set of sushi rolls for JPY 650.00. Which brings the total dinner cost to JPY 2650.00 or Php 1040.00 for five people.

Homemade Yakisoba!
The Okonomiyaki itself was basically chopped vegetables with mayonaise, floss and your chosen meat but It was amazing. It was also thick with a lot of unique textures that fight for your tongue's attention. The Yakisoba was also interesting because I thought it would taste like the Filipino Pancit because of the similarities but I was proven wrong. The noodles itself were flavorful on its own and was filling up my stomach quickly. This means the quality of flour used is very good. Street food is still the best!

Budget Breakdown (Per Person)

Note: Conversion Rate = PHP 0.40 = JPY 1.
Japanese Visa Processing: Php 950.00 (Reli Tours)
Airline Tickets (MNL to KIX & KIX to MNL): Php 10,000++
AirBnB (Lodging for five nights): Php 7000,00++
NAIA Terminal Fee: Php 1650.00
Subtotal: Php 19,600.00 Per Person

 Day One Subtotal: Php 3660.00
Day Two Subtotal: Php 816.00
Day Three Subtotal: Php 1976.00

Day Four Expenses:
Nippombashi station to Universal City Station: JPY 510.00 = Php 204.00
Universal Studios Japan Entrance Ticket: JPY 6600.00 = Php 2640.00
Three Broomstick Lunch(The Great Feast + Butterbeer): JPY 2280.00 = Php 912.00 Per Person
Universal City Station to Nippombashi station to : JPY 510.00 = Php 204.00
Yakisoba + Okonomiyaki + Sushi Roll: JPY 1040.00/5 People = JPY 208.00 = Php 84.00 

Day Four Subtotal: JPY 10108.00 = Php 4043.20

Total Trip Expenses So Far: Php 30,095.20 Per Person

Money Left: Php 14,904.8 = JPY 37,262 Per Person

We stayed at Osaka for five days and I will be writing the rest within the next few days. I will place the link below as they come available.

If you have questions and suggestions please don't hesitate to mention them in the comments below!

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November 26, 2015

Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara are all within one hour of each other via train, and a trip to Kansai International Airport wouldn't be complete without visiting any of these neighbouring cities. For this trip we will be going to Arashiyama, Kyoto via the Hankyu-Arashiyama Line. This will cost us JPY 610.00 or Php 244.00 per person, and an hour of travel time. (See the itinerary below)

Please don't forget that in our Day One and Day Two articles, we explain that our conversion rate is JPY 1.00 is equal to PHP 0.40.

Namba/Nippombashi to Arashiyama, Kyoto

Nippombashi Station (Osaka) to Hankyu-Arashiyama Station (Kyoto) JPY 610.00 or Php 244.00
Nippombashi station is a ten (10) minute walk from namba station or you can choose to travel via train via the Sen-Nichimae Line for an extra JPY 180.00. Either way the Hankyu line is pretty distinct from the exterior and interior looks of the trains.

The Hankyu Line Train that will get us to Kyoto from the heart of Osaka!

The ride to Arashiyama will take over an hour and the view will vary from the busy metropolis to the simple suburbs. It is a wonderful experience to see nothing but buildings transition to rice patties, then to the mountains.

Along the way, you will see the culture of the Japanese who live far from the main city where they work or study because of the high real estate costs but are able to get to the city within an hour of commuting because of the vast transportation infrastructure.

Students and Workers from the suburbs commuting to Kyoto!
At the end of train ride, we arrive at Hankyu-Arashiyama station. Most of our destinations for Arashiyama are walking distance to each other so we'll be saving a lot from transportation fees.

The end of the line! Hankyu-Arashiyama Station

Walking along Arashiyama

Arashiyama is famous for the Bamboo Grove, Tenryu-Ji Temple and the bridge along Katsura River which happens to be a couple of minutes away from Hankyu-Arashiyama station. As you make your way to the bridge, the number of tourists is also increasing as almost everything spot along the way is picturesque. It's one of the places where in if you take a bad photo, it is definitely the photographer's fault because almost everything here is pristine.

The beautiful Katsura River!
The water is clear, the air is fresh, and the smell is pleasant. Your very presence in this place is in itself, reinvigorating. In fact, I will just leave the following pictures to your own interpretation as the experience itself is beyond words.

This is beside the bridge entrance facing the Hankyu-Arashiyama Line: 'Serenity'.
I never want to burn bridges this beautiful.
Before we could cross the bridge on the picture above this sentence, we met a beautiful young Japanese lady wearing the traditional costume, the Yukata. She was kind enough to let us take a picture with her and after the fact, she even thanked us. Beauty and humility is truly an attractive trait.

Beauty and humility is very attractive. 
We've crossed the bridge and turned left. We saw what looked like a man drawn carriage with an old couple having a wonderful time. It was interesting because I thought this could only be found in China. I love it when I'm proven wrong.

Behind them is a restaurant with the view beautiful view of the river and mountain side!
Little ways down the road is where those carriages came from!

A few blocks later is one of the branches of % Arabica! The brand is famous for their blends and latte art! I discovered them via instagram and decided to add them to my itinerary because they were along the way!

Great coffee + Great view = Great Memories
That view from this side is amazing. I can't stress that enough!
His hand movements while making the latte art was too fast that most of my shots came out blurry!
The coffee was amazing. I really have to stress the difference in the milk they use. It tempers the flavors instead of subduing them. Their signature blend is interesting because the fruity flavor that I normally do not like is soft, distinct but not appalling. I like it. This just cost JPY 400.00

up-close and personal with the straw fence

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove!

After we had our coffee break while enjoying the serenity of the river and mountainside at % Arabica, continued to walk up stream to the entrance of the Bamboo grove. We encountered a couple in their traditional costumes. My mother being the consistent one, asked the lovely couple for a picture. 
A lovely couple in Japanese Traditional Costume!
After the entrance, we noticed the gradual increase of straw fences and the bamboos. It was a spine chilling experience because the reason why I came here is because the bamboo grove was one of the settings in the Samurai X (Rurouni Kenshin) the movie. I was all giddy as I drew closer and closer to the heart of the grove. Lo and behold at the view!

Nothing else like it
The increased density of bamboo plants does two things: 1. It creates an oxygen rich atmosphere that relaxes your whole body, and 2. It blocks the majority of the sunlight creating a cool and soothing atmosphere where the temperature is lower than the area outside of the grove. It's one thing to see it in pictures, it is totally a different thing to experience. It overloads the senses with serenity that I want to go back whenever I want to get away from all the hustle and bustle of city life. The Japanese have a wonderful treasure here.

This is Zen

Tenryu-Ji Temple

As we reach the other end of the bamboo grove is the entrance to the Tenryu-Ji temple which is considered to be one of the more beautiful temples in Japan! An entrance fee of JPY 700.00 yen per person  is paid at the entrance.

After purchasing your ticket and going through the turnstile, you are greeted by lush gardens that all feel strategically placed. You see sand, gravel, cement, wood and plants all coming together to give that calming zen atmosphere. You will then find a small creek that crawling up on the side of the walkway towards the main building.

A view of the garden and the pond from the main temple building
As you reach the main building, you will be greeted by the majesty of the huge temple building and the even more majestic view of the pond, the garden and the mountains. It just took breathe away even though there were so many people.

We stayed here for a while to relax and enjoy the calmness of the place. We then proceeded to follow the path that lead us to the main entrance and leave the temple grounds.

The path towards the temple
It was such a shame that the trees were only beginning to turn when we came. It would have been more beautiful if we had arrived a week after. It just goes to show how timeless the beauty of Japan is. We decided to head on to the Saga-Arashiyama Kyoto Station to have lunch.

Saga-Arashiyama Station and the Kimono Forest

Saga-Arashiyama Station

It is a couple of blocks away from Tenryu-Ji temple and it is famous for its bamboo inspired interiors and the Kimono forest. The Kimono Forest is made of kimono fabric have been rolled up and made into columns that line the path towards the station. Each column is embodied with different japanese inspired designs like foxes, sakura blossoms and the like.

Up-close with the different Kimono fabric designs!
We then decided to sit down and have a bowl of Udon which costs JPY 800.00 per bowl. We each ordered our own preferred flavors. After that, we saw this interesting ice cream cone that we had to try because of the unique way it was twirled. We got two cones with each cone costing JPY 500.00. (So JPY 1000.00 divided by five people, equals to JPY 200.00 per person)

The Cremia ice cream cone at JPY 500 each! Was it worth it?
The ice cream itself was different because the vanilla flavor was slightly stronger but deeper awhile the consistency was thicker and slightly less heavier giving it a more refined experience. The cone on the other hand is made like those rectangular milk biscuits with curved edges from my childhood. The refined vanilla ice cream clashes wonderfully with the strong milky flavor of the cone. It was wonderful, probably something the ladies who love deserts would have every now and then. I for one won't have it again. I found the price much in the premium side.

The giant 'Torii' or gate is the first to greet you at the main entrance along the busy street

Fushimi Inari Taisha

After our lunch at Saga-Arashiyama station, we went through several blocks into the kyoto neighbourhood to get to nearest JR (Japan Rail) station to get back to grand Kyoto station and then transfer to the train that will lead us to Fushimi Inari Taisha which is right in front of the Inari Station. The total cost of the ride was JPY 240.00 per person.

When we arrived at Inari station, it was pretty busy. Local tourists, students and foreign tourists all came in unison filling the small station quickly. As we got out of the station we were greeted by the huge Torii or gate at the entrance.

She's dancing her heart away

Fushimi Inari Taisha is famous for the huge number of vermillion torii/gates that are next to each other. In reality that is just the secondary entrance. The whole place encompasses the mountain behind it. It would take half a day to get there.

The busier street that leads to Fushimi Inari Taisha

It is insanely packed with tourists. In fact I was lucky enough to get moments where there were barely any one to obstruct the above picture. It was worth it though. My family however chose not to do the half-day trek to the mountain where the main shrine is.

Meat wrapped onigiri for JPY 600.00 (Rice Balls, I know they aren't round, I was confused as well)

We then decided to leave the shrine grounds through the other street full of food stalls. It was rather complete with different japanese staples like okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes), onigiri (rice balls), red bean ice cream, crab sticks and the like. There were commercial establishments full of souvenirs for you to revel on like japanese toys, utensils and wardrobe. It was quite something to see all that in a short amount of time.

These fishes serve as the cones for the red bean ice cream!
We weren't able to get some of the red bean ice cream because there was no one to attend to our order. It was an interesting find though!

Vermillion is inspired by the color of the Torii/Gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha
After going through the street we headed to the direction of the Inari station. Along the way I passed by Vermillion Coffee. The name is inspired by the vermillion colors of the Torii/gates of Fushimi Inari Taisha.

The Latte from Vermillion Costs JPY 400.00!
The coffee itself was smooth with all the right notes that will leave you with that satisfied 'ahh!' after each sip!

Even the support columns are painted vermillion!
After that we bought our ticket at the station to go back to the Kyoto station where we took a glimpse of the Kyoto Tower and the hotel below it. This ticket cost us JPY 140.00 per person.

Kyoto Tower!

We then headed back to the station to buy tickets that would lead us back to Osaka station in Umeda. The trip will take us thirty minutes and it cost us JPY 560.00 per person.

One of the views from our train ride from Kyoto station to Osaka station
After we got off at Osaka station in Umeda, we did the same as in the first day when we came from the Umeda sky building. We needed to ride the Midosuji line back to Namba, where our apartment was. This costs JPY 240.00 per person. We were still full from all the snacks from Fushimi Inari Taisha so our mother decided to cook some left over grocery ingredients she bought the day before. She was able to make sauteed noodles with seasoned tomatoes and onions. It was light but left us satisfied none the less. It was a tiring day full of walking but I think the most fruitful of our trip so far.

Budget Breakdown (Per Person)

Note: Conversion Rate = PHP 0.40 = JPY 1.
Japanese Visa Processing: Php 950.00 (Reli Tours)
Airline Tickets (MNL to KIX & KIX to MNL): Php 10,000++
AirBnB (Lodging for five nights): Php 7000,00++
NAIA Terminal Fee: Php 1650.00
Subtotal: Php 19,600.00 Per Person

 Day One Subtotal: Php 3660.00
Day Two Subtotal: Php 816.00

Day Three Expenses:
Nippombashi station to Arashiyama Train: JPY 610.00 = Php 244.00
% Arabica Latte = JPY 400.00 = Php 160.00
Tenryu-Ji Entrance Fee = JPY 700.00 = Php 280.00
Udon Bowl Saga-Arashiyama Station = JPY 800 = Php 320.00
Cremia Ice Cream (We shared two cones, one cone = JPY 500.00) = JPY 250.00 = Php 100.00
Saga-Arashiyama Station to Inari Station = JPY 240.00 = Php 96.00
Meat Wrapped Onigiri = JPY 600.00 = Php 240.00
Vermillion Latte = JPY 400.00 = Php 160.00
Inari Station to Kyoto Station = JPY 140.00 = Php 56.00
Kyoto Station to Osaka Station = JPY 560.00 = Php 224.00
Umeda station to Namba Station = JPY 240.00 = Php 96.00
Day Three Subtotal: JPY 4940.00 = Php 1976.00

Total Trip Expenses So Far: Php 26,052.00 Per Person

Money Left: Php 18,948 = JPY 47,370 Per Person

We stayed at Osaka for five days and I will be writing the rest within the next few days. I will place the link below as they come available.

See you guys again on the next one!

If you have questions and suggestions please don't hesitate to mention them in the comments below!

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